Mental Health in Youth and Older Adults

Youth are increasingly diagnosed with anxiety, depression and behavioral disorders. They are at high risk for suicide and at increased risk for low academic performance and substance use.

Poor mental health can impact all areas of a teen’s life, including school and work, decision making and their health. Education about well-being and resilience can help reduce the risk of mental illness.


Adolescence is a time of rapid brain development and the emergence of sexual and social identities. It is also when mental health problems such as anxiety, mood, and attention disorders are most common.

Many teens face challenges in adolescence, such as family stressors, financial difficulties and bullying. These can be exacerbated by events like the COVID-19 pandemic, natural disasters and their aftermath, economic instability, climate change, or racial or international strife and gun violence.

Teenagers are also at risk of being victims of or perpetrators of violence, suicide and substance use. And adolescence is when adolescents are most likely to have mental health conditions that are severe or disabling, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. These conditions can have lasting consequences on a teen’s life. Fortunately, prevention strategies that support youth mental health—like helping students feel connected to school and family—can help reduce the severity of these problems.


Youth experiencing poor mental health often struggle in multiple areas of life, including school and grades, decision making, and relationships. They may also experience more severe conditions like anxiety and depression, which can lead to substance use or suicidal thoughts and actions.

As they go through puberty, teens can face bullying, feelings of isolation, and discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. These factors can be amplified by environmental triggers, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and its related stressors of family losses, financial struggles, and social distancing; or global events and societal injustices, like racial or gun violence.

Many of these challenges are complicated by the fact that teenagers are not well-informed about mental health and the options for getting help. They are hesitant to discuss these issues with parents, teachers, and counselors, and lack access to the right services. They also may feel stigmatized, which can make it difficult for them to seek treatment.

Young Adults

During this time of life, youth are often more likely to experience mental health challenges like depression, anxiety and behavioral disorders. They may also engage in high-risk behaviors including drug and alcohol use, impulsive behavior and higher risk sexual behaviors that can lead to unintended pregnancy and HIV and STDs.

Research shows that many youth do not get the support they need. Some feel embarrassed to ask for help, while others do not know where to find it. SAMHSA encourages open discussion about mental health and offers lifesaving resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Students with poor mental health can be at greater risk of dropping out of school or engaging in harmful behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, gang involvement or violent crime. Prevention strategies that promote youth mental health, such as helping them feel connected to school and family, can help them avoid these risks.

Older Adults

Many older adults have chronic mental health conditions. These conditions may be the result of aging, or the onset of illness such as depression or dementia. In addition, some older adults live in dire living conditions due to financial limitations or poor physical health.

Depression and anxiety are common among older adults. These conditions can have serious implications for a person’s life. However, older adults often don’t seek treatment. This is partly because of misperceptions about aging, and the stigma around mental health.

“There’s an idea that depression or anxiety is normal with aging, when that’s not true,” says Koepp. “And people sometimes feel that they don’t need help.” She says one way to combat the stigma is by providing mental health services in senior centers. This allows young adults and older adults to interact with each other. This interaction often helps them discover that they have much in common. It can also improve their mental health.